After nearly two decades of strong economic growth, Turks have seen their standard of living rise significantly, but long-standing issues remain – including the Kurdish conflict and tensions between Islamic and secular lifestyles and belief systems. The failed coup in 2016 increased these tensions and led to draconian reprisals against any elements of the society considered to be anti-government. This has in turn led to organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) raising concerns about diminishing civil, political and human rights in the country, including press freedom.
Turkey's recent troubled period of civil discontent, suicide bombings and conflict with Kurdish insurgents seemingly reached a nadir in July 2016, when a faction of the military instigated a coup against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The night of drama saw the Turkish parliament bombed and a military blockade of İstanbul's Bosphorus Bridge – subsequently renamed the 15th July Martyrs' Bridge for the civilian lives lost in the thwarted putsch. The AKP responded by dismissing or detaining over 90,000 civil servants suspected to be plotters or supporters of the accused coup mastermind, Turkish cleric Fetullah Gülen. Amnesty International has raised serious concerns about their treatment in prison.
The coup came to pass against a background of increased violence in Turkey, largely due to the collapse of a two-year ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The virtual civil war between the Turkish military and Kurdish insurgents in southeastern Anatolia has led to this part of the country having most of its democratically elected mayors removed from office, its cities and towns being bombed and its residents being subjected to restrictive curfews. PKK splinter group the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) carried out bomb attacks in Ankara, Kayseri and İstanbul in 2016. Meanwhile, ISIL suicide bombers struck locations including Gaziantep, İstanbul's Hippodrome and main thoroughfare İstiklal Caddesi, Atatürk International Airport and Reina nightclub on the Bosphorus.
The 2016 coup was an unwelcome flashback for a country that during the 20th century experienced a coup every decade but had, in the first decade of the 21st century, enjoyed a kind of golden age of the type not seen since its 18th-century Tulip Era. When the AKP came to power in 2002, the Islamic party took a sure hand of the secular state and oversaw bullish economic growth and improvements to infrastructure and living standards. Indeed, many Turkish middle-class professionals enjoy a better lifestyle than their counterparts in Western nations. In affluent spots such as Bodrum and parts of İstanbul, the air of breezy prosperity seems a realisation of founding father Atatürk's modern, Europe-facing dream for Turkey. Equally, in the blue-collar boomtowns known as the Anatolian Tigers, economic gains have been made; many locals are also happy that the AKP is giving Islam a more dominant role in society. This conservative Anatolian heartland far outweighs the liberal Turks in İstanbul and on the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts who are critical of the AKP's Islamic agenda.
With this support, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has moved from two terms as prime minister to his current presidential term. The Turkish president has traditionally been a figurehead with a largely ceremonial role, while the prime minister leads the government, but since Erdoğan's ascendancy to the presidency, the political landscape has changed. In April 2017, the AKP was (just) victorious in a referendum to approve 18 proposed amendments to the Turkish constitution – which allows the existing parliamentary system of government to be replaced with an executive presidency and a presidential system, consolidating President Erdoğan's grasp on power.
Turkey dropped to number 155 in a list of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which was a source of serious concern to many in the Turkish and international communities. In September 2017, the European Federation of Journalists stated that 160 journalists and media workers were in jail – many awaiting charges. These included two Cumhuriyet editors sentenced to five years in prison for running a story about the Turkish secret services supplying arms to Islamic rebels in Syria. Government censorship of the internet and online social networks is also rife.
The European refugee crisis prompted a controversial deal in March 2016 for Turkey to take Syrian refugees back from the EU, adding to the two million already in camps on the Syrian border and elsewhere, and to close the people-smuggling routes from Turkey's Aegean coast to the Greek islands. In exchange, Turks were to be granted easier access to the EU, and Turkey would receive financial aid and the acceleration of its EU membership application. However, increasingly strained relations between the AKP and Europe (largely to do with human rights issues) has meant that the deal hasn't been fully implemented.